Saturday, July 27, 2013

Making the Most of the Time You Have

During the school year, my small brood of 3 children balloons to 25 on Wednesday nights.  For the last 3 years, I have had the opportunity to help my crazy friends bring in local children to our church's Awana night each Wednesday night. 

If you've ever been there on Wednesday, you know where we are--the table at supper with 25 kids and us hovering to make sure that they're eating, not arguing, and not slipping out to the sanctuary early.  It is tiring but we keep coming back each week.  It is rewarding when they start to learn and understand bible stories.  It's fulfilling when you've made a deep enough connection that you are at trick or treat and one of the kids comes running up to give you a hug.  Did I mention that it can get tiring? 

No matter how tiring it can get during the Awana year, we have a connection to those children.  We have heard stories about what happens in their homes.  We have fed them when we know they haven't eaten that day.  Some of the children have lived in our homes for short periods of time.  They become a part of our families.  That is why it is so hard when they leave.

Last Sunday we found out that one of our most active families had moved.  Without any notice, they moved to Georgia--no chance for goodbyes.  I hope that we were able to make the most of the time we were with the kids.  I have watched Joey mature from obnoxious to helpful, Seth begin to start piecing together the stories, Ashleigh actually wanting to learn, and Victoria love everyone. 

This is the chance we take when we choose to form relationships with these great kids.  They live in unstable families that we can't change or control.  Our own children have learned about jail, eviction, and drugs because we choose to help these families.  Some people think we're crazy because we drive in to Section 8 housing like we belong.

It is worth all the craziness for the chance to love those kids, show them some stability, and teach them about Jesus' love by loving them.  If everyone was afraid to go there, how could any difference be made? 

Think about who is in Your Village.  Make sure you are taking advantage of the time you have!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

When The Word Comes to Life

Two weeks ago Pastor Doug taught about incorporating the scripture into your prayers -- read the scripture back as a prayer, inserting yourself.  Interesting concept but I didn't know if it was something that fit my style.  Then the very next day, my I Am Second devotion brought the scripture to life.

Psalm 116: 1-6

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
  he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,

  I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me,
   the anguish of the grave came over me;
   I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
   Lord, save me!
The Lord is gracious and righteous;
   our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
   when I was brought low, he saved me.
Psalm 116: 1-6, The Kelly Version
I love the Lord, because he hears my words and thoughts;
  he hears me when I am alone, depleted, overwhelmed, and exhausted.
Because he chose to pay attention to even me, just 1 in 6 billion people,
  I will seek his guidance for the rest of my life.
The pain and hardships of this life have smothered me,
  My very being was unrecognizable;
  I felt like I couldn't handle anything else.
Then I remembered who was really in control,
  I finally asked God to sustain me.
The Lord is loving and constant;
  He doesn't abandon anyone.
God is with me in every circumstance I face;
  when I was at my lowest, he led me back.
This is the Living Word -- when you read the scripture and it resonates with your inner thoughts and stirs inside you.  It's the Holy Spirit working inside of you to deliver the message you need to hear, whether for comfort, correction, or vision.  It's that invisible force that leaves you feeling uneasy, in a good way. 
Does the Holy Spirit move in you also?  Are you willing to listen?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Learning to Share

What do you do with 6 large zucchinis that are too big to steam when you already have grated zucchini in the freezer?  Make zucchini bread and hit the streets!

It started as one of those feel good ideas full of bonding and laughter, which so often derails into mess and annoyance.  I had this grand plan -- the girls and I would make some zucchini bread and then share it with our neighbors.  What seems quick and easy seldom is.

6 Large Zucchinis Turned into 30 Cups of Grated Zucchini

The Girls Worked on our Assembly Line, Making 15 Batches of Bread
Here's a Look Part Way Through Baking

We ended up with 10 loaves, 1 large bundt, 54 mini bundts, 10 large muffins, and 3 small rounds.  Needless to say, we were using as many pans as would fit in the ovens at one time.

We added a label to each loaf that read:  John 6:35  Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Now to deliver.  We started easy with our closest neighbors who are like extra grandparents and would certainly make a fuss over the girls' bread.  Unfortunately, they weren't home.  So up the road we went, to more neighbors.  We've lived in the same house for almost ten years but hadn't met some of our neighbors until Sunday night.  One of our elderly neighbors was so excited to meet us.  Even though we had never met her, our Christmas pictures covered her refrigerator. 
Out the road further we stopped to see a little girl who rides the same school bus, then on to some more school friends a little further away.  These were all pretty easy.  We were stopping to see people we knew.  After one stop though the girls challenged me.  They pointed out another house that they wanted to stop at.  I was reluctant because I was afraid to give them zucchini bread with a bible verse on top.  We knew the owners and I knew that they didn't really want anything to do with the "church" lifestyle.  It was like being an awkward teenager again.  I was imagining what they would say after we left about how strange we were.  I needed to be a good example for my daughters though, so up the driveway we went. 
We were able to find the man we've seen wandering in town and give him some zucchini bread.  Then Caroline did it again -- "When we know him better we should take him to church with us."  I squirmed and mumbled "Ok."  I wasn't quite ready to go that far.  Another large loaf went to a family that we've known for several years.  I wasn't exciting about the stop because frankly I've been quite frustrated with them lately but the girls had added them to the list so I drove.  As we were headed there, Aubrey prayed for their family.  For an 8 year old she's pretty wise.  She knew that we needed to go show them some love.
As we made our various trips I realized that I need to be willing to put aside my own pride, fear, and bad attitude to genuinely give these gifts.  It doesn't matter if people think I'm that crazy church lady if it gives me the opportunity to show just a glimpse of Jesus.  Something as benign as bread might help to heal a wound because it was given without any strings attached by two little girls who just wanted to share. 
Our bread and message made the rounds -- to neighbors, friends, family, the man who sits in town, to a man pushing a shopping cart of cans, to a family who is struggling, even the workers at the water plant.  We need to keep our eyes open for opportunities to build on what we've done.
We'll see what happens next with, as Brandon calls it, "Our Zucchini Bread Ministry."

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Sterilized Church, Part 2

The stifling atmosphere of perfection (See The Sterilized Church, Part 1) that permeates from so many churches is devastating to everyone who struggles within its midst.  If those within the church aren't comfortable revealing their true lives, imagine the effect on those outside of the church.

Connie Jakab's recent blog post What "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" mentality does to people was still ringing in my mind during our Sunday School discussion two weeks ago.  We were comparing the Ten Commandments in the context of the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Jesus was able to sum up the Ten Commandments in just two commandments.

Matthew 22: 37-40  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

We spent a long time trying to describe what "Love your neighbor as yourself" really means.  We know that our "neighbor" is anyone we come in contact with.  Check out that sentence again.  "Love" is a verb.  We are called to actively pursue everyone.  The more we talked, the more I felt the need to share all the thoughts that were swirling around in my mind. 

If we don't make the effort to LOVE our neighbors, how will we ever be able to effectively share about our faith?  When we show up as squeaky, clean Christians we immediately build a barrier between ourselves and anyone who has been judged or hurt before.  It's "Us" versus "Them" and our goal is to clean them up and convert them. 

What would happen if instead of looking at people as tallies on our Heaven Scorecard, we slowed down, learned who they were, and shared the gospel through our life?  The truth is that it's not our job to change people or convert them.  I really think more people would be open to hearing about the gospel if they didn't feel judged the whole time, like they need to get their life in order before they can even cross the threshold of the church.

The Holy Spirit provides the real desire to change our lives.  If we have hurt people so deeply that they turn away from the truth of God's desire for them we have committed the ultimate wrong.  The church has lost its effectiveness if people aren't comfortable entering the building.

Matthew 9: 11-12  Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

We're all sick.  It's just that some of us have seen the doctor and are seeking treatment.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Sterilized Church, Part 1

Imagine an operating room being prepped for surgery.  Everything is absolutely clean--no germs or  stains--sterile and new.  There is no tolerance for a smudge or a speck of dirt. 

Is this what good Christians and our churches look like?  Are we absolutely clean, without any problems or bad habits?  Do we make the right decisions every time?  We like people to believe that we are spotless because if we have a past (or present) then we aren't perfect.  Good Christians should be perfect or at least look like it.

The problem is that this a LIE!  Even "good Christians" are a mess.  Just because we have chosen to follow Christ's example and believe that His life, death, and resurrection are absolutely true and essential for life in Heaven, we are NOT perfect.  Every single day we screw up.  All of our bad habits, addictions, and earthly consequences don't magically disappear the moment that we accept Christ as our Savior from the world-view lifestyle. 

We have become perfectly FAKE!  We put on our smiley, church mask and walk through life pretending we don't have problems.  If we have problems then someone might think that we aren't faithful enough.  It takes a lot of energy to pretend to be perfect.  Sometimes I think that if I could just have one good, honest break down it would be like a pressure release.  The problem is that you can't be honest if you don't trust that honest will be accepted. 

Fake Christians have crafted the perception that Christians should be perfect and created unrealistic expectations.  What happens when a good churchgoer has a beer?  What happens when a good church girl gets pregnant as a teen?  What happens when someone gets divorced?  What does the church do if someone commits one of these visible sins?  (You know, the ones that you can't hide, unlike gossip, porn, lying.)  What happens is that the impact of the crash is harder!  If the church isn't willing to help catch you then you fall further away, sometimes so far you don't make it back.

I'm not suggesting that we don't hold people accountable for their choices.  When we proclaim to be a Christian, we have a responsibility to be aware of God's expectations for our lives and then live in a way that outwardly reflects the Holy Spirit's inward presence but we will all fail so I'm suggesting that we try to extend some grace.  Grace may not mean that life goes on the same as before because there are consequences--good and bad--to every choice we make.  Grace does mean that we don't slam, double lock, and chain the door when we shove the "sinners" out of our pristine sanctuaries. 

I don't want to be afraid to stand beside someone in the middle of their mess.  Just maybe that step could be what helps someone see Jesus instead of me!  Wouldn't it be great if everyone in the church would take off their mask, be honest, seek God's wisdom and find the support of other believers?  A strong church body is the best medicine for the hurt and broken.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Cardboard Testimony

Our most recent I Am Second challenge was to create our own Cardboard Testimony, the before and after of God working in our lives, and share it with 3 people in our Village.  Trying to foster discussion about our lesson, I gave my answer after everyone had time to think.  The answer was honest but I wasn't ready to expand on the details so we moved on.  Here is the full answer.

This is my reality.  I am a MESS!  I know loneliness and loss.  During the most difficult times of our life, I felt abandoned.  The pressure was like being under water fighting to break the surface but just sinking deeper.  I could see everyone on shore carrying on with their lives but I could never get there.  The stress, pressure, expectations, disappointment, and exhaustion were like battling rip currents, pulling me further away from life.

I have slowly started to take small steps to retrieve my life.  The most important lesson is that even when I felt abandoned in this world, it wasn't my strength that kept our family solid, it was God's strength.  We could have easily spiraled completely out of control but that wasn't his will.  I may not have been his greatest tool at that time but he hadn't given up on me!

Psalm 116: 1-2 "I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.  Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live." 

Psalm 116: 5-6 "The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion... when I was brought low, he saved me."

I am working towards my own goal -- Redeemed Brokeness

To see more Cardboard Testimonies, search Cardboard Testimonies on YouTube.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Our New Puppy

Flash back to the scene in Hope Floats where they are all sitting at the breakfast table and Travis is dressed like Kermit the Frog.  Can you see it?  I used to think that was just ridiculous.  Who lets their kid dress up like an animal at the table? 

Well, by kid #3, I do.  As time goes by, I'm learning to let go.  Some fights just aren't worth it.  Instead of a frog, we have a puppy.  Isaiah came down last night in his puppy costume--the same costume he has worn the last 2 years for Trick or Treat--barking and pointing. 

Just for fun, I played fetch with my new puppy in the hallway.  I am slowly learning that sometimes having a little fun is more important than avoiding the potential collision of fur and tacos.  I don't think that in 20 years I'll remember the stain on the costume.  I'm pretty sure I'll remember how cute Isaiah is in his puppy costume.